Wednesday, 13 February 2008
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Bill 2007, Second Stage, be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and adjourned not later than 5.30 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed eight minutes and on which Senators may share time; No. 12, Private Members' Business, motion no. 35, re the Millennium Development Goal, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1 and to conclude not later than 7.30 p.m.
I am extremely concerned about the current situation as regards the pharmacists and their negotiations with the HSE. There is still a deadline of 1 March in place. There appears to be a great deal of intransigence on the part of the HSE and the Government in this regard. I wish to propose an amendment to the Order of Business as I want the Minister for Health and Children to outline her position and that of the Government in relation to the deadline of 1 March. This matter needs urgent attention in the House today.
Deputies and Senators from all sides of the Oireachtas spoke yesterday at the Joint Committee for Health and Children about their concerns in this regard. Fine Gael was extremely concerned about the potential closure of rural pharmacies. We are told many pharmacies will have to close and lose staff. Patients will suffer, the vulnerable, the sick, the elderly who need to attend these pharmacies.
In the event of their closure, these are the people who will suffer from a lack of service. I want to move an amendment to today's Order of Business and I want the Leader to ask the Minister for Health and Children to come to the Seanad and explain the Government position. Is the Government happy to leave in place the deadline of 1 March or will it remove it, appoint an independent arbitrator, as the Minister indicated as far back as December she wanted to see in place? In the meantime, the HSE sent a letter to all the pharmacists asking them to sign the contract. Can we have clarity from the Minister on the Government's position in this regard? Is the Government willing to change the deadline? It was very clear from the HSE representatives at the health committee yesterday that if the Government were to give a different direction on this and show flexibility, negotiations could go ahead. I want to move an amendment to the Order of Business to ask the Minister to come to the Seanad today and inform the House what stance she and Government are taking on this issue.
I want to return to a question I raised last week, because it was not answered by the Leader. I asked why a crucial part of the national roads strategy campaign was not being implemented, namely, the speed cameras. It seems from a report by Tim O'Brien in today's The Irish Times that apparently the Government had shelved its plans to roll out a countrywide network. I raise this issue because Mr. Gay Byrne, the chairman of the Road Safety Authority said he had been passed from three different Departments and did not get an answer. He said he would do what he had indicated originally and possibly resign if he was not treated in a better manner. I asked the Leader this question the other day. He did not answer it but talked a good deal about driving on the right hand side of the road and having different rules for foreigners, a suggestion bordering on the illegal. That could not be implemented. What is the Leader's understanding of the position as regards speed cameras, and what is the reply to Gay Byrne?
We often hear bad news on the Order of Business. We should, however, recognise that internationally there is some very good news. The electoral success of Mr. Barack Obama in the United States suggests that great country may at last be finding its conscience and moving away from the criminal enterprises of Mr. Bush. I hope Guantanamo Bay will not be closed, but cleansed of the present inmates who are given due process and that Messrs Bush, Rumsfeld, Rove and Cheney will be sent there if they are found guilty as a result of a trial for international war crimes.
I very much welcome another American event, that is, the heroic stance of Mr. Steven Spielberg in dissociating himself, as an adviser, to the Beijing Olympics because of the activities of the Chinese in terms of human rights. I place that in the context of the attempt by the British Olympic committee to muzzle those persons attending. This is a glorious opportunity to highlight issues such as the cultural genocide of Tibet and the extraordinary way in which the Chinese Government is operating as a colonial and imperialist power in Africa where it will buy up any quantity of raw materials, making the money directly available to dictators and thereby undermining the leverage of our overseas development aid.
I intend to withdraw the Civil Partnership Bill 2004 from the Order Paper in disgust at the way in which this matter is being treated. It has been on the Order Paper for nearly four years. I have taken it twice in my Private Members' time. I had thought of taking it again this time but I will not do so because I will not facilitate an evasive and queasy Government that appears to have no relish for this and has abrogated every undertaking given to me. We were told to wait for the report of the Colley committee. It went to the appropriate committee of both Houses, the committee on the family and the Constitution, and the Law Reform Commission. They have reported in the same way and yet nothing has been done. We were given an undertaking that the heads of a Bill at least would be prepared. We have had the indications of legislation from the Chief Whip's office but there is no sign of it. The heads of the Bill have not been prepared and have not been put before Cabinet.
I am not prepared to wait any longer. I attempted to behave in a very moderate way. In the explanatory memorandum to my Bill I indicated that I would not use the word "marriage" in deference to the religious sensibilities of people but now I will. I am now joining the campaign for full civil marriage for gay people in this country. We are entitled to no less. I am an equal citizen and if and when the Government eventually gets its courage together and introduces a Bill, I will wait to see how many people in this House are prepared to stand up and tell me that I am not worthy to have my relationships fully recognised, that I am a lesser human being than they are. The argument about diminishing marriage and diminishing the rights of other people is precisely the argument that was countered so effectively by Daniel O'Connell when it was used to try to deprive Roman Catholic citizens of the then United Kingdom of their full entitlements. I am an equal citizen of this Republic and I will take no less than full and equal rights.
I have not at any stage thought it was appropriate or desirable that we should second-guess the proceedings of the Mahon tribunal. I have always taken that view sternly and carefully. Now that the Taoiseach has seen fit to go to the High Court as part of what appears to be an unrelenting attack on the Mahon tribunal, I ask the Cathaoirleach to facilitate a debate in this House and that the Taoiseach be invited here. I do not think we have had the pleasure of the Taoiseach's presence in the House since we sat last September. I ask the Leader and the Cathaoirleach to invite him to the House in order that we can have a debate on the importance of upholding and defending the integrity of the Mahon tribunal which was set up by an order of this and the other House in October 1997. I am holding a copy of the motion moved by the current Leader, Senator Donie Cassidy, on 8 October 1997 stating that Seanad Ãireann resolved to set up what is now the Mahon tribunal. It is extraordinary we have reached this point after all the debate we have had and after all the requests and demands by members of the Government and their supporters that we let the Mahon tribunal do its work. How many times have we heard it said that we should let the tribunal do its work? The Taoiseach does not wish to allow the Mahon tribunal to do its work. He has now taken the extraordinary step of drawing into the debate an important principleââ
I know what is happening. A hugely important constitutional question is being raised by the Taoiseach. I am entitled, as a Member of this House, of which the Mahon tribunal is a creature, to make the point that there ought to be a debate in this House, as there has been in the other House, in respect of the integrity of the Mahon tribunal.
While the Taoiseach has not been in the House since I was elected to it, when he was here in September 1997 he stated:
It is unacceptable that people who have held high office and enjoyed a high degree of public trust should give evidence that is, in the words of the tribunal, unacceptable and untrue or deliberately conceal vital information from this House, or from a tribunal set up by this House. There is no excuse for this.
The Taoiseach is now posing as a defender of the privilege of this and the other House in the action he proposes to take to the court in circumstances where he tells us he is instructed by lawyers to do so, when manifestly he has made the decision himself to go to court to seek to curtail the tribunal or prohibit it from asking him about â this is the extraordinary part â statements he has made in the DÃ¡il, one of the Houses that set up the very tribunal he is seeking to curtail. Manifestly, there is a requirement for a debate in this regard.
I know it is uncomfortable for members of the Government butââ
The Cathaoirleach will be aware that I never overstay my welcome on the Order of Business. I intend to finish on the following point. The notion of a dig-out has passed into the political lexicon in this country. There is no greater dig-out being afforded to the Taoiseach at present than the dig-out being given by his colleagues in Government â Fianna FÃ¡il, the Greens and what is left of the PDs.
I did not know I had been silent, particularly this week. It may be in order in the relatively short term to have a debate on the question of privilege, once the High Court has adjudicated on particular matters. The use of privilege by Members of both Houses of the Oireachtas is a matter that needs to be debated in 2008. There is an onus on all of us to find out how and when it is used, and whether it is used effectively.
The idea of how we comment on tribunals in general â there are other tribunals in place â has been an issue that has not reflected well on our political system. Members of the Opposition parties in particular have been notoriously inconsistent.
I am not talking about an individual tribunal. In wider debates on this issue, Members should be consistent on whether they think tribunals should continue, close or whether the matters being determined by them should be decided by them or in these Chambers. That is the problem.
I would like a debate on aviation policy because if matters are not resolved regarding the ongoing debt at Cork Airport linked to its new terminal, it has been threatened that the future management of the airport will come under the auspices of the Dublin Airport Authority, which is contrary to a programme for Government commitment to work towards the independent management of both Cork and Shannon Airports as soon as possible. Were the threat to come to pass, it would be regrettable. The Minister for Transport needs to come to the House to discuss whether the debt will be waived completely or partially or whether the entire debt must be met by Cork Airport. Those of us who represent the Cork region would like such a debate.
I regret that Senator Norris has removed his Bill from the Order Paper because it helped to inform and forward the debate. He may not be aware of a meeting in Government Buildings last week with representatives of gay and lesbian groups who were satisfied by the progress which will ensue from the Government's Bill. The heads of the Bill will be available in March and it will be published in September. The House will have the opportunity to pass that legislation which is very much part of the programme for Government.
I second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator Frances Fitzgerald. Given the deadline of 1 March, I hope the Leader agrees arbitration is vital and we will not get anywhere without negotiation. Arbitration was promised previously and no one wants to see small towns and villages in rural Ireland dealt a blow if the Health Service Executive gets its way. It is to be hoped something useful will emerge from the Joint Committee on Health and Children on it.
Does the Leader agree on mature reflection that his suggestion last week about driving on the other side of the road was a cockamamie idea and a total scata bullÃ¡n?
Last week, a national evening newspaper reported that a 13 year old female non-national child was raped by a 16 year old. I do not know if any other Member read the article but I am concerned as a parent that such a thing could happen. Money has been paid over and the family of the girl will not take action because it is within their culture. I always understood rape to be a criminal act in this country and our laws must be obeyed by everybody, including immigrants, who are welcome.
Will the Leader and the Fianna FÃ¡il spokesperson on children facilitate a debate in the House as soon as possible with the relevant Minister, whether that is Deputy MÃ¡ire Hoctor or Deputy Brendan Smith? This is outrageous. It has to have been the most important story printed that day even though it was only a short article. A 13 year old was raped and the Garda's hands are apparently tied because culture is involved. If that is culture, I fail to understand the meaning of criminal intent. Something must be done about it and I will continue to raise the matter until it is addressed.
I support the proposed amendment to today's Order of Business. Last week, I tried unsuccessfully to raise this matter on the Adjournment. A full debate is warranted on the ongoing difficulties pharmacists are experiencing with the HSE. It does not take a genius or a rocket scientist to realise that resolving the issue requires independent negotiations with no preconditions. The Minister would do well to examine the past ten years of the peace process which show that preconditions are stumbling blocks to negotiations. I urge the Leader to facilitate a debate on the issue.
I propose that Government time be provided in the coming weeks for a debate in the Seanad on the issue of collusion. The DÃ¡il debated the issue two weeks ago but no motion or proposed course of action arose from it. We have an opportunity to put that right through a debate based on a motion agreed by all parties at the earliest possible opportunity. More than 50 people were killed in this State directly as a result of collusion between Unionist paramilitaries and British State forces. Nearly two years ago, the Seanad and the DÃ¡il passed unanimous motions calling on the British Government to establish a full and independent public inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane but this was refused. The British Government has also refused to co-operate fully with the investigation established by the Oireachtas. We need, therefore, to revisit this crucial issue.
My apologies for labouring the issue of the impending financial crisis hanging over the heads of many small and medium sized firms, which I also raised last week. The issue is not making the headlines, although perhaps it should. Approximately 6,000 farmers are awaiting payments for REPS 2 and 3, and the figure is increasing by about 4,000 every month. This crisis has beset farmers who legitimately joined REPS on the understanding that payments would be made on time and who entered into financial arrangements with their banks on the same understanding. If these payments are not made immediately farmers will have no option but to renegotiate their financial terms with their banks. It is extremely unfair to put them in this position. In a press release issued last October, the Minister for Agriculture and Food agreed that she and her officials would find a method for ensuring that payments for REPS 2 and 3 were punctual. I ask the Leader to immediately liaise with the Minister to ensure her commitment is honoured.
I support Senator Cannon in regard to REPS payments for farmers and concur with Senator Fitzgerald on the urgency of the crisis pertaining to pharmacists. Between now and 1 March, I ask the Leader to use his good office to ensure all preconditions contained in the interim contract proposed by the Minister for Health and Children for pharmacists are removed and that the contract is renegotiated. If that does not happen, we will face the prospect of rural pharmacies closing. On Monday, I was told by 60 pharmacists in Oranmore that they will have to cut between one and three staff in each pharmacy. The sickest in our community will be the ones to suffer.
I appreciate the Cathaoirleach's good words but I ask the Leader to intervene with the Minister on the issue. Yesterday, the issue was debated for five hours by the Joint Committee on Health and Children. We expected an agreed motion to be produced by the Government side this morning but it was not forthcoming. The most seriously ill people in our community should not be made to pay. Pharmacists have made clear to me that they will not be able to stock expensive medicines if this proposal is introduced. Medicines that will, for example, cost â¬100 or more for those suffering with shinglesââ
I wish to refer to the appalling attempt made on the life of the President of East Timor, JosÃ© Ramos-Horta, a former winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Ireland gave great support to East Timor during its time of struggle and I have no doubt it will do so again now. The Minister for Foreign Affairs is due to pay a visit to that country to discover the up-to-date position in respect of the conflict resolution initiative. It would be useful if, on his return, he came before the House and provided a report on our policy in respect of East Timor.
My second point relates to local authorities. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government introduced planning guidelines in respect of updating the design of houses in local authority areas. I welcome these guidelines, particularly in the context of how they relate to improved community facilities and transport infrastructure. I do not know whether the Minister's words were misinterpreted but there seems to be an impression among members of the media that he advocates curbing the role of the councils regarding how they might frame their local area development plans. I seek clarification on this matter. If the Minister introduces a policy directive, there might be a need to amend the planning legislation. Will the Leader ask the Minister to come before the House to clarify matters?
I support Senator Fitzgerald's call for the Minister for Health and Children to come before the House to outline the position in respect of pharmacies. It emerged from yesterday's meeting of the Joint Committee on Health and Children that the Minister informed the HSE that it must find â¬100 million in cuts in respect of the distribution of medicines. It appears the backs of the HSE's staff are to the wall and that they cannot allow the 1 March deadline to be extended. There is a need for the Minister to come before the House to clarify matters.
Will the Leader ask the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to come before the House? The Minister recently introduced new building regulations and new planning guidelines. A debate is required in respect of both and I would welcome it if the Minister were invited to the House.
I wish to strongly condemn the killing of a 27 year old man in a church car park in Donegal late yesterday evening. The man's body was discovered at 7.30 p.m. I agree with the local priest, Father Brian McGoldrick, who stated that this was an appalling act. The gunning down of a person in that manner in a civilised society is nothing short of utter brutality. I support the Garda's request that anyone with information should present themselves at the incident room that has been established at Lifford Garda station. I call on the Leader to contact the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to ensure every effort is made to bring about the required close co-operation between the Garda and PSNI to bring to justice the perpetrators of this crime.
This is the second such incident that has occurred in the Border area stretching from Lifford St. Johnstone back to Castlefin in the past number of weeks. It is now a worry for families and people living in that area. I appeal for cross-Border co-operation to take place. I ask the Leader to convey the request or perhaps we can discuss it in the Seanad. I have full confidence the Leader will convey the matter to the Minister to ensure the criminals are brought to justice.
I raise the issue of the debt in Cork Airport. I welcome that the Minister for Transport, Deputy Noel Dempsey, has appointed a noted industrial relations expert to attempt to find some compromise between Dublin Airport Authority and Cork Airport Authority on the â¬220 million debt Cork has been saddled with.
Reading media reports and listening to commentary this morning, one would think the Minister is a knight in shining armour. It must be acknowledged he is taking a more proactive role in the matter than his predecessor, who spent almost two years in the Department literally not answering any questions on it.
Approximately four years ago in this House, the then Minister, Deputy Brennan, gave a clear commitment that if he broke up Aer Rianta, Cork Airport would begin its autonomous life without debt. Now the Government is almost blaming the two airports for not coming to a resolution on the airport debt. This is scandalous.
I welcome that the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, has finally appointed a person to find a resolution to the matter. It must be borne in mind that the Government gave a clear commitment in this House in 2004 that Cork would begin its independent status debt-free. That is not the case.
There is another dispute in Cork with a tinge of industrial relations, the ongoing GAA strike. I appeal to the Cork county board to stop spinning and concentrate every effort on resolving the outstanding dispute.
Meanwhile the Chairman of the committee has gone to the HSE as the leader of the Fine Gael Senators rightly knows and we are all meeting tomorrow morning. The Fine Gael leader also knows that the IPU is meeting the Minister tomorrow. It is disingenuous of her group to put down an amendment asking for the Minister to come to the House.
I am informing my leader of what has gone on so that he can reply to Senator Fitzgerald. If this is not the arena in which to do so I do not know what is. A great deal has happened since the issue was raised here last week. It is wrong of Fine Gael to come in and take the high moral ground on this.
I second Senator Norris's motion to amend the Order of Business to withdraw the civil partnership Bill, for the reasons he has mentioned. The Government has treated him extremely shabbily in respect of this Bill. I note the Deputy Leader's comments about the time-frame for the introduction of Government legislation on civil partnership. It is the first time that it has been put on record that the heads of the Bill would be introduced in March followed by the Bill in September. That is welcome but time is slipping by. At this point same sex couples should seek and get full equality with opposite sex couples, nothing more and nothing less in terms of legal recognition.
That is a core principle of equality.
I wish to renew a call I made last term for a debate on women's representation in the Oireachtas. Senator Norris mentioned Barack Obama's successful run in the US presidential election campaign. On behalf of women Members, I note that Hilary Clinton has also been doing extremely well and should not be written off yet as a Democrat candidate. Senator Clinton or Senator Obama would make a worthy and important replacement for the criminal policies of George Bush.
Senator Clinton's candidacy has been a real inspiration for women in the United States and here, just as Senator Obama's candidacy is an inspiration for African-Americans. Senator Clinton also speaks for an under-represented and disadvantaged group.
I wish to note the Taoiseach's moves to uphold the parliamentary privilege from which we all benefit as Members of the Oireachtas. I invite the Leader to facilitate a debate on how best to enshrine and protect this privilege which may be under threat from forcesââ
Soon after this Seanad first met, the Leader indicated with some pride that the Taoiseach would address the House in early 2008. It is traditional for a newly elected Taoiseach to address the House. The Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, did so in 2002 and 1997 and the former Taoiseach, Mr. John Bruton, did so in 1994. I ask the Leader whether it is the intention of the Taoiseach to address this House or has he a reason for considering that to be inappropriate?
In that context, were the Taoiseach to come to the House, he should explain an issue that has arisen this week. Members know fromââ
ââthe Constitution that the Taoiseach and all officeholders are amenable to the Oireachtas, whatever about the courts. Approximately ten years ago the Taoiseach signed an order establishing the Moriarty tribunal, in the course of which Mr. Justice Moriarty cross-examined a Deputy on statements made by him in the House. I refer to Deputy Michael Lowry. The Taoiseach was responsible for the establishment of that tribunal. For him now to suggest that he must assert the privileges of the Oireachtas in respect of Article 15.13 of the Constitution when he did not do so ten years ago is entirelyââ
I wish to support Senator Cannon who raised the question of the REPS payments which is of considerable importance to a large number of farmers. Were Ireland to fail to abide by an European Union ruling or directive, we would be brought into line quickly by the Union, the courts and the legislation therein. The farmers had a legal agreement with the European Union and it is incumbent on Members to ensure this legal agreement is upheld unless both sides agree to any change. This matter is causing considerable hardship and distress to the farmer community. That plans made on the basis of a legal and binding agreement have been changed by an institution that has gained so much respect in this country is causing considerable hardship and distress among the farming community. We must ensure that right is done by the farming community and that the EU authorities are asked by the Government to abide by the legally binding agreement into which they entered.
I support the request of Senators Burke and Ormonde that the Leader invite the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to the House to clarify the position on the guidelines on sustainable planning, which are now subject to public consultation. It is very important that such guidelines, which have a great impact on communities, be properly debated in the Seanad.
The Social Welfare and Pensions Bill is being considered in the DÃ¡il at present. Will the Leader ascertain from the relevant Minister whether there will be any provision made for waiver schemes for waste management collection in local authority areas throughout the country? There is an anomaly whereby local authorities are at a disadvantage to private operators in the operation of waiver schemes. They are not on a level playing field and this needs to be addressed in conjunction with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Minister for Social and Family Affairs.
We debated volunteerism some time ago in the House. In this regard, special mention must be made of the work of the Irish Red Cross and Order of Malta Ireland in Civil Defence units throughout the country. Will the Leader organise a debate on this to ensure the volunteer groups are properly resourced so they can continue their good work and expand?
Will the Leader invite to the Seanad the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, who has not been here yet? There was much chat and abuse last week about Cork but I visited the new Cork School of Music two weeks ago where the â¬60 million investment therein is a credit to everybody involved. Will the Leader ask that there be such a school for every county?
I want the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism invited to the House to discuss investment in the arts. The Arts Bill, passed some years ago, proposed a sub-committee on traditional arts. It published a report and â¬3 million was made available for the traditional arts. Subsequently a sub-committee was formed to evaluate the role of the arts in education, on foot of which evaluation a report was to be presented by May 2007. I believe it has been completed and it is time that it was circulated. It is time that arts education in general received the kind of boost received through the investment in Cork School of Music and other activities.
I asked the Leader last week about having a debate on workplace bullying. Since there were many requests last week, I am not sure everything was written down and therefore want to reiterate my point.
I add my voice to that of Senator Ã Domhnaill in condemning all the brutal killings that are taking place. There was talk last week about the fact that we have moved on and it was stated there were threats from extremists. We should have moved on from all the killings and murders and we must express our disgust at them.
I join Senator Boyle in asking the Leader to have an urgent debate on the Government's aviation policy. I do so conscious of the fact that I have raised the need for the Government to make a decision on Cork Airport Authority's debt on an Adjournment matter and the Order of Business. Unlike Senators Boyle and McCarthy, I believe it is ridiculous that there has been a complete Government U-turn this morning in the wake of the appointment of a mediator, Mr. Peter Cassells. I do not welcome his involvement in the process because it suggests a complete U-turn that will affect the people of Cork and the board of Cork Airport Authority. A clear commitment was made by the Government to have a debt-free airport in Cork but it has been reneged upon. It is not good enough. The people of Cork are being treated like second-class citizens. I challenge Members opposite, in particular the Cork Members, to stand up for the people of Cork. It is not good enough to come into the House and pay lip-service. I call for a debate because the rainbow warriors on the benches opposite have yet again let down the people of Cork.
I join Senator Bacik in calling for a debate on the representation of women in the Oireachtas. The recent experience of Hillary Clinton has shown some of the issues which pertain to the representation of women.
I ask that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government come to the House to explain why he is enforcing the birds directive which is making a special area of conversation of the entire harbour area of Wexford town. It will effectively stymie development and will mean we cannot get a second bridge and that the harbour, which is a public fishery, will not be able to work. Even our opera festival will be affected. It is opened with a fireworks display but that will frighten the birds, so it will not happen. In short, this directive is for the birds and I beseech the Minister not to implement it.
We should have a debate on the tribunal because nobody on this side of the House is afraid of such a debate. Let us bring everything out in the open â for example, who is leaking information? We should debate the systematic leaks and dubious witnesses getting dubious immunity from prosecution from the tribunal. Perhaps the Members opposite know who in certain professions, particularly the barristers' profession, is leaking information to the Daily Mail. Let us get a few answers.
It is a slippery slope to the bottom.
I have come into the House and listened to matters about the solicitors' profession and how its standards are being lowered, but the same applies to barristers. Who is leaking information? Whoever is doing so is preventing justice from being served.
The Taoiseach is entitled to defend himself. I am sure if Senator Alex White was in another profession and if the Taoiseach was his client, he would recommend the same.
I join with Senator Cannon and others who raised the issue of the rural environment protection scheme and the delay in payments to farmers. While there is a direction from the European Union, it has been varied for Ireland over the past 12 to 15 years since the REPS has been in operation and farmers are looking for a continuation of that. This situation will lead to serious financial hardship for a number of farmers who have entered into agreements with financial institutions in terms loans they have taken out to upgrade their farm holdings. I urge the Leader to arrange for the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to come to the House as quickly as possible to discuss this issue and to try to bring about a positive resolution.
I again ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister for Education and Science to come to the House to discuss the issue of a university for the south east region. We have heard contradictory reports in recent weeks about the status of the current application by Waterford Institute of Technology. A report was submitted by Dr. Jim Port on the application by WIT for university status for the south east region. It seems to be common knowledge that there is a degree of division in the Cabinet on this issue and that the Minister is determined not to grant university status to WIT. I ask that the report produced by Dr. Port is published and that the Minister come to the House in order that we can have a full debate on this issue.
I mention the candidature of Senator John McCain or the US presidency since all the other candidates have been mentioned. There is a need for balance. Senator McCain would make a fine president.
Before Christmas I raised the issue of local radio stations being taken over by various groupings. Since then I have received a number of representations from people involved in local radio stations outlining that on the takeover, the commitments given in the original granting of the licence disappears. It is imperative this issue is debated and I ask that the Minister is invited to the House to debate it. Another annoying matter is that following some of these takeovers, staff are asked to take wage cuts, which is wrong. It means local radio stations are losing some of their brightest and best people to the national radio stations, if they can get into them. It is imperative that we have a debate on this matter and that the Minister investigates the taking over of local radio stations in the past 12 to 18 months.
I am aware Senator Coughlan had a vested interest in a local radio station at one stage but I do not think that is still the case.
There are young people who want to get involved in broadcasting and many others got into it through local radio or even through the pirate stations in the old days. The salaries now being offered to some of them are below the minimum wage and this needs to be investigated urgently. The Leader should arrange for the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, to come to the House and debate this. I have no doubt he is unaware of what is going on. The Broadcasting Commission of Ireland should also carry out an investigation to see what is happening with local radio stations.
Senators Fitzgerald, Coghlan, Doherty, Healy Eames, Burke and many others called for an urgent debate on pharmacies and the Health Service Executive. I compliment all those who are doing their best to assist in the difficulty being experienced by pharmacies, the HSE and ourselves as public representatives. A meeting of the joint committee is taking place and the Minister is endeavouring to do everything she can. I can ask the Minister to come to this House at an early stage for an urgent and forthright debate. We have had such a debate with her. I have been a long time in this House and the interest generated at the proceedings yesterday and the views of both sides gave a little clarity to the issue. I look forward to a possible all-party motion coming from the committee on this. I cannot agree to an amendment to the Order of Business today because the first I heard about it was on the Order of Business. That is the right of any individual Senator but if I can facilitate the request as soon as possible, then this will happen.
Senator Coghlan complimented me on my views last week on road safety. The Senator is a long-time Member of this House and I fully agree with him regarding the media coverage, which has been incredible. We put road safety centre stage and to get such media coverage was unbelievable. The contents of many requests made to me last week were all matters relating to road safety. If 90% of the people of Europe, America and Canada are going one way, we had better join them. On the other hand, road safety must be the paramount issue. Senator Hannigan brought to our attention that 25% of all drivers killed last year were not wearing safety belts. Surely manufacturers have a great responsibility to put in a limiter that a car engine cannot start until the seat belt is engaged. These are simple, commonsense proposals. Senator Coghlan has always been to the fore with common sense in this House.
Senator Fitzgerald spoke about the matter which Gay Byrne pointed out in The Irish Times. The Minister's office was in contact on many occasions last week with the chief executive officer of the Road Safety Authority, Mr. Noel Brett, and we are fortunate to have him in that position, as we were with his predecessor, Mr. Eddie Shaw. I am sure that will allay the fears of that very competentââ
To allay the fears of the Senator, I support the call for the quick installation of speed cameras. We will have an urgent debate and an update on road safety with the Minister before the Easter recess, if the House agrees.
Senator Norris proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, which was seconded by Senator Bacik and was clarified by Senator Boyle. I propose to support the amendment and I will take No.6 as an amendment to my proposal with the agreement of the House later on.
Senators Alex White, Boyle, Leyden and McDonald all expressed different views on the Taoiseach. Natural justice must always be the order of the day. I look forward to the Taoiseach addressing this House and I hope the issue he addresses will be of great significance to our country and to future generations. It is on that invitation I will propose that he address the House. I take on board the views of all Senators but particularly the views of young Members such as Senator McDonald and what she had to say on the current debacle. The Senators also called for a debate on privilege and I have no difficulty in setting aside some time for this.
Senators Boyle, McCarthy and Buttimer spoke about national aviation policy, especially Shannon, Cork and Dublin airports. I certainly will allow a debate on this which I hope will take place before the Easter recess as well. I will pass on their views to the Minister.
Senator Coghlan and Senator Glynn called for an urgent debate on children and I can facilitate their request. The experiences and concerns they highlighted are alarming to say the least.
Senator Doherty called for a debate on collusion. Senator Walsh also called for a similar debate and asked for an all-party motion. I will bring this to the attention of the leaders of the various groups in the House and we will discuss it at our meeting next Tuesday.
Senator Cannon, Senator Hanafin and others called for an update on the position in which 6,000 farmers find themselves regarding REPS payments. In the course of the ongoing discussions on the payment arrangements for REPS 4, the European Commission raised questions last month about the established practice of paying REPS 2 and REPS 3 farmers at the beginning of each contract year. At that stage, around â¬6 million had been paid to REPS 2 and REPS 3 farmers since 1 January 2008. The Department officials have argued strongly with the Commission that the practice of paying at the start of the contract year is well established and that the Commission is well aware of this. The Department's position was outlined in considerable detail at the meeting with the Commission in Brussels on 25 January 2008. The Minister, Deputy Mary Coughlan, made the same point directly to the Commissioner when she met her in Dublin last week. She emphasised the seriousness with which she regarded the situation.
The Minister and her officials are pressing for a quick resolution to the issue and high level contacts are ongoing with the Commission. Until the matter is clarified, however, the Department is not in a position to release any further payments under REPS 2 and REPS 3. I assure the House that we will monitor this weekly and when it is appropriate, the Minister will come to the House to hear the views of Senators. We all support the plight of the 6,000 farmers as correctly outlined to the House by Senators Cannon and Hanafin.
Senator Ann Ormonde called for an urgent debate on East Timor and for the Minister for Foreign Affairs to be invited to the House to discuss the matter after his visit there. We have had many debates on East Timor in this House over the years. I have no difficulty in arranging for that debate. The Minister has agreed to come to the House to have a wide-ranging discussion on the foreign affairs portfolio. Perhaps we will defer the holding of that debate until after his visit to East Timor.
Senators Ormonde, Burke and Coffey called for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to be invited to the House to debate issues pertaining to local authorities, local authority developments, planning guidelines and various other matters. I have no difficulty in such a debate taking place.
Senators Ã Domhnaill and Keaveney condemned the killing of a man at 7.30 p.m. yesterday in Donegal and called for communities, North and South, to support the Garda and the PSNI in their investigations. We lend full support to that call and extend our sympathies to the family of that unfortunate man who lost his life in such a tragic way.
Senators Bacik and McDonald called for support in encouraging women to enter politics. I have already made known my view on encouraging women to become involved in public life. We all should do our best in that respect. Politics is not an easy life but we all know of great public representatives, male and female, who served in this House over the years. It is lovely to see all the young ladies who have joined us in this Seanad and I look forward to working closely with them and wish them all the very best. As Members will be aware, I cannot express my view on the elections in America, but everyone knows where my heart lies in that regard.
Senator Coffey inquired about including a proposal in the social welfare Bill which will be before Seanad in the coming weeks. I will pass on his views on the waiver scheme for domestic refuse charges. His proposal is worthy of inclusion in that Bill. I suggest that he request his DÃ¡il colleagues and other Members require their DÃ¡il colleagues to put forward that point in regard to that Bill. Those who are on the breadline and can only afford the basics of tea, butter, bread and sugar are most in need a waiver for domestic refuse charges. I fully support that call. The Deputy's party might even table a Private Members' motion on this matter. The introduction of wheelie bin collections to promote a cleaner, greener Ireland has resulted in a marvellous transformation in dealing with refuse. Anything that would enhance and help everyone to participate in that initiative would be welcome and for the sake of the expenditure of few extra euro, the introduction of a waiver scheme for refuse charges has been a godsend. I support that proposal by Senator Coffey.
The Senator also expressed his support for volunteers and called for a debate to support them. The Taoiseach has been to the forefront in his support of volunteers and volunteerism. The Red Cross and the other organisations the Senator mentioned need our support. I have no difficulty in making time available for such a debate. It could well be the subject of an all-party motion. I will discuss with the leaders at next Tuesday's meeting the tabling of an all-party motion on how the Seanad and DÃ¡il can play a part in acknowledging and supporting the plight of the volunteer.
Senator Keaveney called for the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism to be invited to the House to debate the issue of the traditional arts.
That is a worthy request and I have no difficulty in making time available for such a debate.
Senator Keaveney also called for a debate on bullying in schools. I can request the Minister for Education and Science to address this matter. Perhaps it can be included in a debate on education in general when the Minister comes to the House. She will be in the House in the next week or so to discuss another aspect of education. We might avail of that opportunity to include also a discussion on the matter raised by the Senator.
Senator John Paul Phelan raised the matter of an application for university status made by Waterford Institute of Technology. I will pass his views on to the Minister for Education and Science. Perhaps that matter also could be discussed when she visits this House the week after next.
Senator Ellis called for a debate on the takeover of local radio stations. This is an alarming development for those of us who were Members of the Oireachtas many years ago when unlicensed radio stations were the order of the day and were very successful. We convinced the then Government to license radio stations. It was never envisaged that the communities who were given those licences would sell them on and make millions of euro from those sales. Those licences were granted to serve the interests of the community. Local radio's great strength is that it is local and everyone who wants to listen to it has access to it. From the listeners' point of view, which is what is important, the Government and the Department have a duty to put a stop to the sale or future sale of local radio stations, having regard to the way they are being taken over. Neither can anyone condone the wage cuts staff have been asked to take following such takeovers, as outlined by the Senator. I will make time available to discuss this matter in the Seanad at a future date.
Two amendments were tabled to the Order of Business and I will take them in the order in which they were proposed. Amendment No. 1 is in the name of Senator Fitzgerald. She moved an amendment to the Order of Business that statements on the implementation of the deadline of 1 March in the new proposals for pharmacies be taken today.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 22 (Ivana Bacik, Paul Bradford, Paddy Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Paudie Coffey, Paul Coghlan, Maurice Cummins, Pearse Doherty, Paschal Donohoe, Frances Fitzgerald, Fidelma Healy Eames, Alan Kelly, Nicky McFadden, David Norris, Joe O'Reilly, John Paul Phelan, Feargal Quinn, Eugene Regan, Shane Ross, Brendan Ryan, Liam Twomey, Alex White)
Against the motion: 28 (Dan Boyle, Martin Brady, Peter Callanan, Ivor Callely, Ciarán Cannon, John Carty, Donie Cassidy, Maria Corrigan, Mark Daly, Déirdre de Búrca, John Ellis, Geraldine Feeney, Camillus Glynn, John Gerard Hanafin, Cecilia Keaveney, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Lisa McDonald, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Francis O'Brien, Denis O'Donovan, Fiona O'Malley, Ned O'Sullivan, Ann Ormonde, Kieran Phelan, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Jerry Buttimer and Maurice Cummins; Níl, Senators Déirdre de and Diarmuid Wilson.
Amendment declared lost.
I move: "That the Bill be withdrawn", for the reasons I have stated. I have done everything possible to have it taken. I pay tribute to other Members of the House, on all sides, who spoke in a very humane way on this matter which is significant and confronts this House. On my desk I have two piles of cases involving persons in this situation caught in an agonised fashion and for the past four years the Government has failed to address the issue. I cannot cope with this amount of material without making a protest.
I would also like to pay tribute in particular to the work of my distinguished colleague, Senator Bacik, who worked very hard with our small committee to create this legislation. It is not easy for Independents to write legislation. It is a highly technical matter. I had the assistance of Senator Bacik to whom I am very grateful. It is shameful that after four years we are placed in a situation where, as a protest, we have to withdraw this Bill.
I will call the Senator in the morning. That is all I can say to the Senator. Any Member who missed out will be called in the morning. My hands were tied because of the time limit and I had no other option. I am sorry about that, Senator.